September 30, 2013

Should we Give Processed Food Another Chance?

This is one of the posts I wrote last year and I forgot to press the " Submit" button :(
The content is still valid and  irrelevant of time though.

“Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.” Michael Pollan.

Don't eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." Michael Pollan

As extreme as this notion might be, it does hold some truth. The debate about processed and wholesome (natural) food has always been raised. Some scientists claim that processed food offers convenience, saves time money, transportation costs and makes food available all year around over all the globe. While others argue that processed food has been the major cause of diseases due to their low nutrient content, high artificial ingredients, and high caloric value. World health organization states that the increase in obesity levels and chronic diseases (diabetes, heart diseases) are attributed to processed foods. Increased risk of cancer is also due to the amount of chemicals in these types of food. Also hyperactivity and attention deficiency disorder in kids were caused by consuming food loaded with artificial colorants and flavors such as candies and soda drinks.

Yet, we always see those advocate processed food. For example, in the issue of TIME magazine, the  famouDr. Mehmet Oz criticizes the " supreme foodie culture" and encourages people to give frozen vegetables a second chance, saying "Nutritionally speaking, there is little difference between the farmer’s-market vegetables and that from the freezer. The rise of foodie culture over the past decade has venerated all things small-batch, local-farm and organic–all with premium price tags! But let’s be clear: you don’t need to eat like the 1% to eat healthily. " ! Read more

At first glance of the article, you have to agree with what he says. I mean who can afford buying organic food if someone has a family of 5 kids? And who can actually have time to drive to the organic market?
Oz clearly suggested a practical way to keep eating healthy by buying frozen fruits and vegetables. He claims that it is snobbish of some people to turn their noses away from the food in the supermarket.
Yet, critics claim that his point of view has a hidden agenda because Oz is known for his support tp big food companies like Monsanto....and thus makes him opposing to the traditional farmers' markets.

Regardless, where one stands or what "Food Culture" one supports, any person should always be informed and aware of the food he is eating.

Therefore, people have to be able to distinguish between minimally processed foods and processed ones:
 Food that go through several steps of processing such as washing, cutting, slicing, baking, cooking, frying are processed.
Thus, the food prepared at home is minimally processed food. But sometimes this minimally processed food has added ingredients that are artificial such as colorants, preservatives, emulsifiers, bleachers, sweeteners, stabilizers,odor and flavorsTherefore, they have been altered from their “natural state” to become fully processed. 

However, one has to note that processing is vital for some kind of food such as pasteurizing or heat treating the milk in order to kill the harmful bacteria. Also meat, chicken and fish, need to be cooked to make them edible and easy to digest. We also dry fruits to preserve them to eat them in their "not seasonal" months throughout the year.

Sometimes vitamins and minerals are added to food to fortify it and compensate for their deficiency such as vitamin D fortified milk, and iron fortified bread or rice.So processed food can sometimes be of added value.

Scientists warn people not to consume a lot from these foods:

  • Canned foods that contain a lot of salts
  • Foods made with refined white flour, such as white breads and pastasPasta, rice and white bread are the most common side dishes in the standard American diet.
  • Packaged snacks (potato chips, cheese crackers)
  • Processed meats (Mortadella, Cured Meat, Ham) 
  • Packaged baked cakes and cookies08212013-chips-ahoy-brownie-cookie-1.jpg

  • Sugary breakfast cereals

Thus, the advantages of eating natural food are that they are full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are crucial for the body to function properly. Moreover, they contain certain chemicals such as antioxidants that help in boosting immunity and can heal certain diseases.

Another recommendation to avoid the bad processed food is by being “label literate”. People need to read the ingredients list every time they are buying something from the shelf. So, if one is reading the list and couldn’t understand or recognize the ingredient then this might be something they shouldn’t buy and eat. Also, they should be aware of food that has one of these words “modified”, “bleached”, or “refined”. A rule of thumb is that if one can make it in the kitchen, it’s more nutritious than if it was produced from a food factory.

A thought to ponder upon is that processing of food was necessary at some points. If humans didn't need it, noone would have opened the first canning factory for example..
 Food industry have been attributed as evolutionary. Not only man would not have evolved and survived if he hadn't discovered how to cook food, nor how to preserve it for the cold winter nights, nor how to can it for the wars...etc Cooking by itself is evolutionary. (Richard Wrangham, 2009,  in his book "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human") .Yet in this evolution, one can see how the number of diseases are increasing. Is it really good? Are not we evolving into our worse state due the obesity pandemic, the diabetes threats and cancer's silent killings?

These were the questions that other scientists say when they observe our modern eating...

As a food technologist, I do believe in the power of food processing in making food affordable, convenient and available all year round. But as a consumer I do want this food to remain healthy, with minimum chemicals... Many prominent companies have been working on this link, making food both convenient and nutritious. For example, milk is now produced in the most effective way ( Via Ultra High temperature processing) to keep it nutritious and make it last longer on the shelf...50 years ago this couldn't have been possible.. Now it is due to the technologies developed that have allowed vitamins'  and shelf life preservation in milk and many other products.

Consumers need not to be too critical of the food industry.YES...There are certain foods that have to be avoided (the ones I listed above) but there are others that can still be consumed without compromising our own health!
Consumers need to have some trust that what they are buying is actually developed by food technologists like me that care about their families and themselves...
In all cases, awareness is key.

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